The LCD Soundsystem documentary opens with the quote, “If it’s a funeral, let’s have the best funeral ever.”
While it’s a great metaphor for their final show at Madison Square Garden, don’t go into the film expecting a procession of nostalgia. Anchored around live footage and supplemented by a heady Chuck Klosterman interview, brief windows into Murphy’s daily routine, and behind-the-scenes set-up/tear-down of the Garden, the most poignant feature of SUAPTH is that it refuses to dwell on the past.
Murphy speaks of obsession with temporality and specific perspectives (“from this position… from this position…”). He wants his songs to be “of a moment” and in that sense Shut Up And Play The Hits is the last great LCD Soundsystem song, encapsulating the climax of an era and the entry into the everyday, which from the looks of it is mostly coffee-making and dog-walking. Murphy admits it feels “disturbingly normal”.
Despite the film’s aversion to nostalgia, it does conjure some images of a younger James. Reading Gravity’s Rainbow, idolizing Bowie, fearing the internet’s democratization of taste and demolition of historical perspective. He reminisces about how the band originally wanted to play only house parties and to leave a stain that was “half music and half culture”. But the strength of the film is that it doesn’t ever hover in the band’s history, it always returns to the present, using past positions to inform the reader as to why they’re calling it quits.
Any doubts Murphy has about retirement are totally justified by the band’s performance. From the opening anticipatory build of Dance Yrself Clean, the musicians looks and sounds like they’re on fire. Everyone’s playing with big-stage swagger and the cinematographers capture just how much fun the band is having, including guests like a chorus of Arcade Fire members on “North American Scum” and Reggie Watts’ baritone on part two of 45:33. Making due on it’s promise of the hits, featured songs include “Losing My Edge”, “Time To Get Away”, “When Someone Great Is Gone”, and “All My Friends”. They’re the tracks you’d want and expect. The show closes on a celebratory “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”, with Murphy showcasing his role as conductor, holding out a fermata long enough for him to quip that it’s his “last endless pause”.
The day after the show Murphy returns briefly to MSG to take a last look at the band’s gear, which will be sold off. While eyeing the impressive “funeral pyre” of guitars and modular synth racks, he silently tears up, as if finally realizing the position he’s walking away from.